MANILA, Philippines—Letran trumped College of St. Benilde, 81-75, in Game 1 of the Finals to move within a win away from the NCAA Season 98 men’s basketball championship on Sunday at Smart Araneta Coliseum on Sunday.
The Knights, who can wrap up the coveted three-peat on December 11, limited the Blazers to only eight points in the fourth quarter.
“Before the start of the series, someone asked us what our advantage is against CSB. For one, experience is there because we’ve been playing for the championship before this,” coach Bonnie Tan said.
With Letran leading by just one in the final period, 70-69, Kurt Reyson and King Caralipio sank huge buckets down the stretch to extend their lead to six, 75-69, with under five minutes left.
The Blazers missed several chances down the stretch to get back on track with Macoy Marcos and JC Cullar missing back-to-back triples with under two minutes left in the game followed by an offensive foul by Will Gozum to turn the ball over.
That gave Letran the chance to seal the win as Fran Yu sank two cold-blooded free throws to put the game beyond reach, 79-73, with 23.4 ticks left.
Louie Sangalang finished with a career-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Caralipio and Reyson finished with 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Gozum tallied a double-double with 18 markers and 11 boards for Benilde. Migs Corteza and Mark Sangco registered 18 and 10 markers to their names in a losing effort.
In the first two minutes of the game, Miguel Oczon sank a three-point basket in front of Kyle Tolentino and landed awkwardly on his left foot.
Oczon was not inserted into the game since then.
Benilde’s bench outscored Letran’s, 50-39, but the Knights doubled down on defense, forcing the Blazers to 18 team turnovers.
The defending champions also got more free throws than the Blazers, 26-11.
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